President Poshard was on WSIU radio yesterday as one of his regular appearances on Jennifer Fuller's Morning Conversation series. There wasn't a great deal of news here; the conversation centered, as have so many prior conversations with President Poshard, on finances, and the potential challenges facing SIUC. I'll also finally flag my own last Morning Conversation on 11/30, which I just listened to today (not as bad as I remembered it being, a sort of strike recap).
Does anyone else have the feeling that every time President Poshard goes on the radio we lose another 25 students? It's not because Poshard is inarticulate (he isn't), but that he's such a downer. The state's budget isn't in good shape, of course, and one shouldn't lie and say that it is, but the most recent news is good--MAP funding has been restored for the spring, and the state has indeed come through and paid us the last of our overdue FY 2011 funds. But rather than playing up these bits of good or at least reassuring news, Poshard emphasized how awful things would have been had the state not come through. In his last morning conversation, back in late November, he said that the negotiations with the FA took place in the worst imaginable financial situation. That's simply not true. At least in the run up to the strike depressing talk about finances played a tactical goal in helping the administration at the bargaining table. But now the only possible result is to provide us all with a little coal in our stockings. Listening to President Poshard leads one to believe that we are always in the worst imaginable financial situation--or at least that we are on the verge of it.
How should one speak honestly about the budget in a more upbeat way? Let us take performance based funding, a topic that came up in this interview. I am not fond of this whole idea and, like Poshard, I would hope that such funding will come as a bonus rather than as a "carve out". Given the state's finances, a carve out seems likely (i.e., the state will take some percentage of what it would have given Higher Ed and divert it to performance based funding). But let's take a step back and try to come up with a more positive spin. The major purpose of performance based funding is supposed to be to increase the proportion of Illinois students who graduate from college. That sounds like it's right up our alley. A more positive riff on performance based funding, then, would note the concern about funding, but emphasize that the state's goal meshes with our mission. We want to help the state provide a real college experience to first-generation college students and to at-risk students--precisely the populations we must reach if we are to increase the proportion of Illinois residents with degrees. SIUC ought to be a winner from performance based funding, then. That at least is a respectable and positive answer, and hence a better response than to make this another reason to bemoan our fiscal troubles, real though they may be.
The most striking thing Poshard said came as part of his discussion of priorities SIUC had presented to the IBHE. “We want to retain and recruit faculty, which is our #1 priority” (4:55). Probably Poshard refers to the RAMP document one can find here (for more details, try this document). Money for salaries is the first priority listed there and, if only slightly, it is also the single item with the highest dollar total ($2.7 million out of the $14.1 million overall request). But he was decidedly pessimistic, no doubt with good reason, about the chances for this RAMP request for additional funding being met. The salary figures sought would allow for a 3% raise to keep up with inflation, plus 1% for "critical faculty and staff", plus an additional 1%, from internal sources, without a spoken purpose, which would bring the total to 5%. As Poshard all but said in the interview, we'll likely just get the 1% from internal sources. Of course the absence of additional state dollars dedicated to salaries isn't the whole story; SIUC gets funding from other sources as well, most obviously from tuition and fees, which will likely go up by rather more than 1% next year.
I suppose the most important bit of news to me (which I've successfully buried) was Poshard saying that he'd like SIUC to reduce looming cuts in pensions by splitting the burden more or less 50/50. The state is likely going to ask current employees to work longer and contribute more to receive the pensions they've been promised (whether this is constitutional or not); Poshard said he would push to have SIUC soften that blow by picking up a greater share of pension costs. That would of course cost us in other areas, as Poshard stressed, but I for one am glad to hear that SIUC will do what it can to protect the pensions we've been promised.
Poshard also spent a fair amount of time discussing his work on the state's P-20 council, which is attempting to ensure that students are better prepared for college; here again the rub is funding, according to Poshard.